Do’s and Don’t Guidelines for Critique Groups

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Photo Compliments of Morguefile.com

 

Are you in a writing critique group? If so, have you ever wondered what to say about someone else’s writing? You want to help, but you don’t want to sound like a know-it-all either. You want to feel valued by your writer friends. You want to be respected as someone who cares and someone who can help a fellow writer improve their craft.

But how do you know what to say, and be more effective and valuable to your writing friends? I’m often on the look-out for suggestions.

Since I’m not a great auditory learner it doesn’t come easy for me to listen to someone’s story and be able to give feedback. One of the tips that helps me is to have that person’s story in writing so I can follow along with a visual. I see the story so much better that way.

I’m writing a memoir this month, so I’m reading lots of books on memoir writing to inspire me and draw out the best prose I can find. While I was reading Judith Barrington’s book, Writing the Memoir, From Truth to Art I found these awesome guidelines for critique groups that I loved. I hope they help you too.

 

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“The process of critiquing will not happen spontaneously; it has to be learned,” says Judith.

WHEN SOMEONE is READING YOUR WORK

DO NOT:

  • Say how bad, unfinished, trivial, or unworthy it is.
  • Explain your intention in writing it (if it works your intention will be apparent).
  • Tell us exactly where and how you wrote it (“on the bus going to work I saw this woman…”).
  • Respond at all until everyone has commented. This means you remain silent throughout the critique.

BUT DO:

  • Ask for specific feedback you would like.
  • Make notes on your copy as people talk–even if you don’t immediately agree with what they say.

WHEN SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK IS ON THE TABLE

DO NOT:

  • Criticize in a way that will make the writer feel stupid or insulted (be respectful).
  • Make sweeping judgments (“this is good”; “This is bad”) but give personal specific responses using “I” (“I was moved by the last section”; “I was confused at the top of page 3”).
  • Tell stories from your own experience that the work in question reminds you of (this is not about you).
  • Assume that an “I” character is the writer. Even if the writing is memoir, refer to the “I” character as “the speaker” or “the narrator,” rather than as “you.” Be sure the facilitator reminds people of this rule if they start using “you.”
  • Try to make major changes, reword in your own words, or impose your own view. Your job is to help the writer convey his or her own view powerfully.
  • Expound on a point that has already been clearly made. You can say you agree or simply pass.

BUT DO:

  • Try to believe in the possibilities of each piece. (You might want to read “The Doubting Game and the Blieving Game” in Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers for more about this.)
  • Articulate your response as clearly as you can–it is not enough simply to feel something .Good critique depends on your making conscious and articulating your reposes.
  • Tell them what you liked, what moved, you, what you can still see or feel. (These positive responses should come first.)
  • Tell the writer what you remember most clearly.
  • Tell them where you lost attention or were confused.
  • Write notes on your copy of their work if you like and give it to the writer (this is often useful later and saves time in the critique group). This is particularly suitable for grammar, punctuation, spelling correction, etc.

What useful feedback have you used in critique groups?

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Comments

  1. Robin says:

    This is wonderful advice. We will have to make a more pointed effort to offer critiques – and share writing – when we meet up…

  2. Robin – I feel like you do a LOT of this already. I love your critiques. I’m blessed to have you in my writer’s group – and have your friendship, too!

  3. Matthew says:

    I agree, Robin. These are great pieces of advice. I need to get the people in my writers group to send me at least a digital copy of what they’re reading. The group though has built my confidence in writing fiction. Before my writers group, I had never read my fiction in front of anyone.

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